Three things they didn’t tell you about university before you started.

1. First year isn’t just a repeat of a-levels.

That’s what you get told when you’re about to head off, that and since the first year grade doesn’t count towards your degree that you don’t need to worry about it. It’s just to get everyone to the same level, as people don’t always do the same modules in their a-levels.

But what really happens when you get there is somewhat different. You find out that you have to do reasonably well in first year to even think about doing well in the other years. That’s because they build on what was learned in first year.

And what you learn isn’t just revision. It’s new stuff, and actually quite a lot of it. The amount of content in one module is actually pretty high, too much to learn in the time given in my opinion but that’s a topic for another post.

My first year was so stressful I seriously considered leaving university and trying out another degree. They throw a lot of work at you so quickly, and as you’re still in the mindset of ‘homework’ and ‘deadlines’ that it shocks you a bit to be in complete control of what and when you do it.

2. Working till midnight is the norm during exam periods.

So when I started university I expected some sort of work spike during exam period, like in a-levels, but nothing even close to what it was actually like.

It’s hard, really hard. And a lot of work. Which should be obvious I suppose, but when you’ve just come from sixth form college, that’s been the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. No matter how many times people will say that’s it’s ‘easy’, that’s still quite patronising and it absolutely doesn’t feel like that to you.

But when you get to uni, in hindsight, it was quite easy. It certainly didn’t keep me up at night crying as much as my degree has.

During every exam period the library is open for twenty four hours. And it’s pretty much busy all of those hours, along with any other study area on campus. If you don’t get somewhere by around midday, then you probably won’t get anywhere. And if you do find a table, you basically have to stay there well into the evening if you want it for the whole day.

This, and the amount of work, lends itself to full days spent studying into the wee hours of the morning. Then dreams of what you studied during the day.

And people say the degrees have gotten easier over the years…

3. You can’t have it all.

The stereotype of university is parties, studying, and getting drunk. And that does happen, but not all of it, and never enough of each one.

I was a ‘stay in and work’ sort of person. Partly because of the amount of work, partly because I didn’t actually like clubbing and there wasn’t much else to do in Loughborough.

But some people were the party type, going out multiple times a week and always with a hilarious drunk story. And that affected their grades.

I think there’s a danger in these stereotypes. It makes students feel like they haven’t accomplished the ‘student experience’ if they didn’t do it all. I feel guilty for not going out as much, but if I did then I might not have got the grades I did. And I bet some people wish they’d studied more.

But these unrealistic expectations of university can have a dark side.

Many students nowadays have depression, and, I don’t know for sure, but I think at least some of them are due to feeling like they aren’t reaching this ‘ultimate student’ persona. And that’s a shame.

So, I think knowing what I know now, if I could have talked to a real university student when I was in college, then I probably would have been able to go into my degree with my eyes wide open. And I might have gotten a little more out of it, not that I didn’t get a lot out already, but still.

Hopefully I’ll remember this to help any future kids I may have.

Also, shameless promotion of my sister’s blog http://endofeverypage.wordpress.com. Give it a look. If you like mine then you should like hers.

Taught how to revise.

Today has been a bit trying.

Basically, a lecturer took it upon himself to decide how we were all going to revise. He has a policy of not giving out the answers to past exam papers.

To be fair, I understood most of his reasoning.

He made the points:

1) In the real world, you won’t get the answers for everything.

2) You need to learn how to be assured that the answer you have put is the right one, just by understanding the material.

3) There are enough fully worked through answers in the notes so you can use those as references.

Which all make sense. But I have a few counterpoints for them:

1) In the real world, you are very rarely made to memorise formulas and methods and re write them in exam conditions in a given limited amount of time.

2) I can do that, and I do learn by that in all of my subjects. However, there is always that nagging doubt in your mind that you are wrong. Checking your answers reassures you that you are right in your thinking. Also, checking my answers has allowed me to learn what common silly mistakes I do in certain questions which I can see and then fix.

3) You can easily get the wrong idea from only one method of working through, which I have done multiple times, and so have a big error in your working. Also, the exam questions are quite a bit different to his examples.

On the bright side, he has eventually decided to give us the answers, but this was only due to him going on holiday over the exam period so he would not be available to go to for help. Thank you to a friend of mine for pointing out that ‘If we don’t have the answers, can we at least have some office hours where we can go to check our working with you?’.

But there has been a pattern recently of people trying to lead us into a certain way of revising. This is an issue for the people that have spent the years learning a method which works for you and then suddenly having that method made unavailable to you.

Even through school, quite often we are taught to learn toward exams. This lends itself to repeating exam questions over and over, as given by the large number of past exams always given to you in A-Levels. This pushes us towards using past exams and checking the answers as our form of revision.

This is further reinforced by, as I saw mainly in my biology exams, that the marks can be given for very specific sentences. This makes us memorise chunks of answers from past exams and just learn them by rote to paste into our exams. This is the only way you can get the marks. Even the teacher was frustrated by this, but she didn’t control the exam board.

Also, the pure amount of knowledge we are expected to cram into our brains lends itself to memorisation and short term memory techniques, only to jettison the knowledge after one exam to make room for the next. This stops us from being able to fully delve into and understand what we are meant to be learning.

I know, in my case, that I don’t remember half of the things I supposedly ‘learned’ in my first or second years. The only things I know I have remembered are the things that we have kept on using or have built on. This is a bad technique for creating fully knowledgable and well-rounded people for the real world. We’re putting graduates out there unprepared for what is expected of them.

I am a believer of making every resource you can available to the student, and letting them decide how and what to use to best revise for them.

In the end, the only people affected by what we learn and how we learn it, are ourselves.

Why we need the Bechdel test.

I was having a conversation with a friend of the family, mentioning the bechdel test and how I didn’t think that the latest Captain America film passed it. She replied with ‘but that’s not really important is it?’.

Um, yes it is.

Not in every film, but if women aren’t portrayed as important, like being fifty percent of the population entitles us to be, at least a bit, and not just thinking about men all the time, then we won’t have any good role models to look up to.

I myself was brought up in a very non-sexist, non-racist, basically pretty accepting family. So I never really out any thought into how or if I would be discriminated against when I grew up. Even now it’s hard to think of being seen as ‘less’ in a work environment in comparison to a man. It just doesn’t compute to me, and hopefully it will never happen.

But now I am in my twenties, I have sort of grown to accept the general day to day sexism in being groped in clubs, cat called, and the number of times I’ve been propositioned for a threesome with my twin sister I can’t even count. But it shouldn’t be the norm, and it sucks.

Each time I see a woman in a film, be it black widow, cat woman, hermione, or any strong woman who has a varied and developed personality, like in game of thrones, I feel a bit more empowered myself.

I know I don’t have superpowers, but if I could feel that strong for a second, I could absolutely be that strong in my own life. My life doesn’t revolve around men, or whoever I end up being attracted to, and why should it?

We need more representation in the media, just as we need to represent the world as it is with races as varied as they are.

The mathematician in me thinks that the percentages of races, and genders we have in the place where the tv show or film is based, should be reflected in the same percentage of cast members in the show.

Like, if the country it was based in had 30% of the population who were black, then the shows based there should also have 30% of their cast who are black too. Then there can be no argument of under representation, it’s mathematically correct, and I for one think that that’s the only way it can be absolutely fair.

Besides, who doesn’t want to see some women kick some ass just like the guys in those superhero films? I’m putting my vote in for a new Wonder Woman film. I think it could be awesome.

‘Why do you write’

So I thought this was going to be another small creative writing prompt from my big book of writing ideas, but instead I randomly opened the page to this. It seemed very existential, but I thought why not, people need to be reminded why they love to do something every now and then.

I write because I love it. I enjoy it. It’s pretty much that simple.

But it’s not really just that. It’s the only thing in my life that I enjoy doing, not because I’m good at it, I could be terrible at it and still love it, but just because it makes me feel happy. Like, smile-at-absolutely-nothing, sitting-in-the-sun-in-the-middle-of-summer happy.

And I don’t want to ever stop.

That’s the good thing about writing: I could do it for the rest of my life. I don’t even need to be successful or earn any money doing it, I just need to still enjoy it.

And why shouldn’t I try to do the thing I love that much as a career? Even a small amount of writing in my job will help getting out of bed on a Monday and coming home happy.

You know you love something when it can relate to everything you do. If I have a particularly vivid and complicated dream I instantly write it down for a good story or short story. If I overhear a conversation, I sometimes think that I could absolutely write that as a conversation between two characters in my book.

And if you have something that makes you that happy, then never stop doing it.

When does the ‘back up’ become the obligation?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I love reading and creating new worlds. It makes me happy. My parents know this.

They also know that, when I chose my degree, I chose a subject that would be more likely to get me a job and I would most likely do well in it. I also happened to like this subject (maths) which was a nice bonus. I knew if I wanted to either be a writer or do maths, or both, that getting a maths degree was the best option.

So now with me coming up to the end of my studies, I’m looking for jobs in the writing sector, or editing maths books, or something that I think would make me happy.

I’m also trying to write a lot on this blog, come up with article ideas so when I have time I can try to get some published, and get myself prepared for writing another book.

But my mum, and other people, are getting really focused on my degree subject. Like I’ll be letting them down if I don’t get a job in mathematics, or finance as is coming up a lot.

Apparently it ‘would be a shame’ if I didn’t use my degree. And I agree. But I’m not going to not use my degree, I want to do some maths. I just also happen to want to write. If I could write maths that would be the dream.

Maths was always sort of there as a back up for my writing. Something I also enjoyed that I could do if my writing never took off.

But when did this back up become the thing I should do with the rest of my life?

I’ve also been told that doing your hobby as a job can make you not like it anymore. But why shouldn’t you take the risk if you think that you might love doing your hobby for the rest of your life?

If there’s any time for taking risks, it’s in your twenties when you’re just starting out. It’s the best time to fall flat on your face, pick yourself up, and keep on going.

What’s the worst that can happen if I throw myself into my writing now? I can still go back to maths, or incorporate it somehow into my life, if it doesn’t work out.

Yes, I do believe that everyone should have some form of qualifications, some back up if what they want to do is risky. But I don’t believe these people should then be told to forget about their dreams and take the safe route without even trying.

My dad says that ‘When you’re starting out, the last thing you should do is settle.’ And I agree.

Get a back up, but then follow your dreams. Then at least you have a safety net. But that’s what it is: a safety net. Hopefully you also enjoy your safety net, then you’ll have the highest chance of having a happy life.

But if you don’t try the risky thing, you’ll never know.

You can never have no regrets.

This might be a short post, but we’ll see how it goes.

With around a month left of my life as a student there have been a fair few articles about ‘things you wish you had done at uni.’ Even my mum says things like ‘you don’t want to end university and do wish you’d gone out more.’

But I can’t do everything that I want to do. And I shouldn’t feel bad if I don’t. If I regret not going out as much, then I do. There’s nothing I can do about it now. But I’ve worked hard and studied to get the grade I want. That has to come with a trade off for something.

Of course I wish I’d done some things during university: had a long term relationship, slept with someone, fallen in love, hung out with my friends more, stressed less (though I’m starting to think that last one is just impossible), but I can’t go back in time and do things differently. And how do I know if I did that things would automatically be better? I could just as easily regret a completely different set of things.

Focusing on our regrets just makes us sad and keeps us in the past. I don’t know where I’m going to be in ten years time. But I’m sure that whatever I’m doing now is part of leading me towards it.

My mum always said she wanted to be a doctor. But she has no regrets, whatever she did lead her to have her family, and if she had been a doctor she may have never had us. And she would never change her life now.

That’s what I want. Assurance and happiness in where I end up. I don’t know where that will be and I don’t really care, as long as I’m happy and content where I am.

So anyway, if you’re in university or are about to go, or wherever you are in your life, ignore those stories about regrets or ‘things you wish you had done.’

There is no ‘right way’ to live life. It’s impossible to miss out on things you ‘should’ have done, as there is really nothing that anyone is obligated to do in their lives.

Just focus on where you are now. Hopefully it’s somewhere nice. I need to remember that myself.